Leslie Jones was attending Colorado State University when a friend, who thought she was funny, signed her up for a stand-up comedy contest.
A communications student on a basketball scholarship, Jones had never done stand-up before — but she was game.
“I touched the mic and it was magic,” she says. “I knew exactly what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”
In fact, after Jones won the contest, she boldly told the school newspaper, “I’m going to be the next Eddie Murphy!” Soon after, she embarked on a stand-up career.
That was in the late 1980s. Over the next three decades she honed her craft and, in 2014, was hired first as a writer for NBC’s venerable Saturday Night Live and then as a featured player.
Chris Rock helped her land the high-profile gig, singing her praises to SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels and encouraging her to try for an on-screen role. “I was like, ‘Man, what are you talking about? I’m not that person. I don’t do characters,’” Jones remembers telling Rock.
“I didn’t want to fail. I was scared,” the Memphis-born comic admits. “I didn’t want to get up there and make a fool out of myself and perpetuate what everybody’s been saying — that black women are not ready to do comedy and not ready to do sketch [comedy].”
She’s known for her appearances as Weekend Update’s outrageous relationship expert. But Jones — who will appear in the upcoming Ghostbusters movie alongside Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon — wants to do more character work on the show.
“I want them to able to use me more than just as Leslie,” muses Jones, who admires the ability of castmates like Taran Killam and Aidy Bryant to disappear into various roles.
“I want to be able to play a normal person,” she says, “and maybe even do an accent or two.”